Congrats! You’ve made it to Madrid and now you need to get set up in your new home!
Here are three pieces of advice as you get settled in the Spanish capital:
- Get Your Transport Card
You’ll want to get this set up as quickly as possible. You can go to any “estanco”, or tobacco shop, to get it. Make sure that you have your passport, Spanish passport pictures (you can go to a booth in most of the train stations), and Acala’s address because you’ll have to fill out a document. They will give you an actual transport card that you can recharge each month! Keep the receipt, or take a picture of it, so you can remember when you need to charge it up.
Keep in mind, you can use this card for buses and trains, but you can only recharge it in the train stations. Make a note on your Google calendar the day before it expires if you have to take a bus in the morning because you’ll have to pay out of pocket if you’re over 30 days!
This card is yours and only yours, hence your picture on it. If you give it to someone else than they can get fined or in trouble with the ticket checkers who sometimes get on the bus and check your card or who check after you leave the turnstiles in the metro.
- Get Your Phone Plan Set Up
There is no doubt that you should get a prepaid plan, especially if you already have an international phone! You can go anywhere in Europe and there’s no roaming! Not to mention, you can use WhatsApp to message your friends and family without any additional charges.
If you’re not sure, you can look on the side and the back of your phone. The iPhones usually have a slot on the side for the sim card and there’s a hole that you can use the back of an ear ring or a small tack to open it. The Samsung phones and android phones normally have it in the back of the phone near the battery. If you’re not sure, you can call your provider and ask them to tell you where the sim card is.
In my opinion, I recommend suspending your phone line in the US for as long as you can to save money. You will also need the provider to unlock your phone to give you access to the European network which you can typically do over the phone. If you haven’t paid off your phone, they might not unlock and give you access without you using one of their plans abroad, which tend to be more expensive than a European prepaid plan.
After you have your phone unlocked and you’re ready to go to a phone provider, you can go to a variety of phone providers. Most companies allow you to open a phone plan with your passport. After you start your phone plan, you want to make sure that it’s charged up with some extra “saldo”, or phone credit, because these plans tend to only include cell phone to cell phone calls.
All the numbers in Spain that start with the the first number “6” (i.e 675-556-041) are cell phone numbers, and any number that starts with the first number as “9” (i.e 910-324-545) is a landline and it’s more expensive to call landlines from your cell phone.
A few resources to find housing are on idealista , fotocasa , or easypiso which are great resources to get started looking for your new apartment. If the tenant and landlord list a phone number, they’ll want you to send the tenant or landlord a message on WhatsApp and to set up an appointment with them directly. If you send an email, the tenants and landlords will be slower to response (if they respond at all) so WhatsApp is your best option, especially if you’re working on your Spanish. Apartments can go quickly so you’ll want to set up a time to meet up sooner rather than later and you should be ready to move quickly on the apartment.
However, if you’re not sure about putting down a deposit, and you feel that they are putting pressure on you, then take your time. If you have a friend, or someone else from the program, then it’s always good to bring someone else to get perspective. I’d suggest checking some apartments and setting multiple apartments in the same area to help you gain some perspective on the area to get a better feel for price, quality, and living situation.
Please be aware that some apartments are shown through agencies that list a certain type of apartment, and then when you arrive to see the apartment, they show another one. When you arrive, you want to make sure that the apartment that you’re seeing is the apartment that is listed online and that the photos look like what you’ve seen online. Sometimes the agencies list one apartment online, but when you arrive on site, then they bring you another apartment that’s not listed to sell another apartment.
Whether you go directly to the landlord or through an agency, I’d recommend double checking all the details that are listed online and making sure that at least one of the tenants is present to get a feel for who else lives in the apartment, how long they’re going to stay in the apartment, etc. You can ask for a tenant reference or to speak to a past tenant if the current ones aren’t available, which might slow down the process and it could cost you a spot in the apartment, but they should give you at least a night to think about it and get back to them.
As you go from August and further into September, the apartment search tends to become more difficult because more and more international students arrive into the Spanish capital. You might want to consider staying at an apartment until January or February and then open your search again.
Although this situation might not be ideal, you’ll probably have more options after the new year since apartments tend to open as the spring semester starts since some international students only do a semester abroad and leave to go home.
These three first major steps might make you feel like it’s a never-ending process, but after you’ve completed them then life gets easier! You’ll get to know your new neighborhood, you’ll learn how to get around the city, and most importantly, you’ll be able to focus on your teaching practicum and your classes!
Joe Meringolo. Franklin Alumni Teach & Learn in Spain Master program 2014-2015
Joe Meringolo graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland (2011) with a bachelor’s in English. After two years of teaching in the Spanish region of Galicia, he returned to Spain to complete a Masters in Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language at the University of Acalá – Instituto Franklin. After teaching the fall semester (2016) of Spanish and English in Lima, he taught Spanish in Baltimore city for the spring semester (2017).
He now lives in Baltimore, Maryland and works for Global Experiences, an international internship provider based in Annapolis, Maryland.